Baby, It's Cold Outside

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Hold on to your toque.

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Al Gore told us that the brutal New Years cold snap was evidence of anthropogenic global warming. It fell to climate scientist-activist Michael Mann to flesh out the thesis: "[C]limate model simulations indicate that we can expect more intense nor’easters as human-caused climate change continues to warm the oceans." Just for good measure, Mann took a hearty slash at those who wonder whether the deepest freeze in memory was indeed caused by global warming (including, presumably, President Trump).  "So, to the climate change doubters and deniers out there, the unusual weather we’re seeing this winter is in no way evidence against climate change. It is an example of precisely the sort of extreme winter weather we expect because of climate change."

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This morning the Associated Press is reporting on a new study based not on climate models but actual historical weather records dating from the late nineteenth century. It has found that "the Arctic blast really wasn't global warming but a freak of nature." Or, as the scientists themselves concluded, "this was an exceptional two-week cold wave in the area in the current climate. Cold outbreaks like this are getting warmer (less frequent) due to global warming, but cold waves still occur somewhere in North America almost every winter."

But how exceptional was this cold outbreak? New York Times journalist-activist Henry Fountain reported last week that, in fact, "scientists have been puzzled by data that at first seems counterintuitive: Despite an undeniable overall year-round warming trend, winters in North America and Europe have trended cooler over the past quarter-century." Fountain cites Marlene Kretschmer, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany: “We’re trying to understand these dynamic processes that lead to cold winters."

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Plainly, a new climate consensus is emerging, alongside a more focused media-relations strategy for selling it. As the northern hemisphere thaws out, we must redouble our efforts to make obstinate real-world temperature data fit the models, while diverting an increasingly skeptical public with heart-rending stories about boiled bats, iced iguanas, disrupted sea turtle reproduction, and coral loss. Given the likelihood that more North Americans than ever will want to cast off their parkas for a little Caribbean fun-in-the-sun this winter, it really is a brilliant strategy.